- The Washington Times - Monday, September 21, 2015

Russian President Vladimir Putin told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to worry about the Russian military buildup in Syria as the two men held talks in Moscow on Monday, their first face-to-face meeting in nearly two years.

Mr. Putin sought to assuage Israeli concerns after Mr. Netanyahu expressed unease over Russia’s growing support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, whom the Israeli leader said is increasingly colluding with Iran toward launching state-sponsored terrorist attacks against Israel.

Mr. Netanyahu said during a meeting at Mr. Putin’s residence outside Moscow that Iran and Syria have been supplying Hezbollah with advanced weapons and are “trying to set up a second terrorist front on the Golan Heights,” which Israel captured from Syria and effectively annexed in 1981.

The assertion, reported Monday by The Associated Press, comes amid mounting concern in Washington that Russia’s expanding military role in Syria will indirectly facilitate the Assad regime’s collusion with Tehran.

Moscow has claimed that its real goal is to help the Syrian military fight the Islamic State group — a common enemy of the U.S., Israel, Russia, Iran and the Assad regime.

A U.S. congressional report said last week that Mr. Putin views the Syrian army and its Iranian allies as incapable of defeating the Islamic State in Syria, prompting the Russian president to directly intervene in recent weeks by setting up an air base and sending in tanks, artillery and jet fighters.

SEE ALSO: Russia begins spy drone missions over Syria: reports

Mr. Putin’s bold yet risky move of putting troops on the ground directly confronting a terrorist group contrasts sharply with the Obama administration’s strategy of an air campaign over Syria but little other military action in that country.

The Islamic State controls wide sections of territory in Iraq and in Syria, where it has proclaimed a capital of Raqqa in Syria’s east.

Analysts at the Congressional Research Service delivered an assessment to lawmakers Friday that says Mr. Putin is helping his ally, Mr. Assad, and protecting Russia’s southern flank in the Caucasus, where Islamist fighters congregate and deploy.

During his meeting with Mr. Netanyahu on Monday, meanwhile, Mr. Putin said fears of Syrian aggression against Israel were unfounded.

The Russian president told Mr. Netanyahu during televised comments that, “the Syrian army and Syria as a whole are in such a state that they have no time for a second front. They need to save their own state,” The Associated Press reported.

“But still,” Mr. Putin said. “I understand your concerns.”

Mr. Netanyahu told Mr. Putin that Israel’s policy was to prevent these weapons transfers and thus he felt it was important to inform Russia of this, “to make sure that there was no misunderstanding between our forces,” the AP reported.

Monday’s meeting was the first between the two leaders since November 2013, although they have spoken by telephone three times this year, the Kremlin said.

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